Film Review: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service was a gem of a movie which married the fun excess of old spy movies with OTT violence and foul language. Can they pull off the same trick twice?

Well, the answer is almost. 

This second adventure finds Eggsy AKA Galahad (Taron Egerton) still in action as an agent of Kingsman, a private spy agency. But when he’s attacked by a familiar face, it appears the agency is in the sights of a resourceful and ruthless foe. A foe who quickly takes out the agency, leaving Eggsy the only survivor other than tech expert Merlin (Mark Strong).

Following their “doomsday protocol” the two discover a bottle of bourbon branded Statesman and travel to Kentucky to investigate. There they find their American equivalent, posing as an alcoholic manufacturer. After a brief run in with Agent Tequila (Channing Tatum), they realise they are on the same side and unite. 

Their common enemy is Poppy (Julianne Moore), head of a global drug cartel and robotics genius. She has poisoned all of her drugs with a lethal disease, and promises the cure if all drugs are legalized, allowing her to enjoy her success and come out of hiding.

Unfortunately the US President (Bruce Greenwood) has no qualms about letting all the drug users die as it will mean he is remembered as the President who won the war on drugs and Poppy will be blamed.

Affected by the virus are Eggsy’s girlfriend Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström), Tequila and the President’s chief of staff, who objects to his plan but is sent away.

Eggsy investigates with Statesman agent Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) and his mentor Harry (Colin Firth) who survived being shot in the first film but temporarily lost his memory and is not yet back to his best.

Can Eggsy stop Poppy’s scheme? How much can he trust Statesman or Harry? Will he find the antidote in time?

First things first, here’s what works- the action sequences retain the gloriously gory and overblown touches of the original, and while it lacks anything as madly brilliant as the original’s “Freebird” sequence there are some great scraps here. There’s also a nice little gag that plays on one of the first film’s major scenes.

The returning cast are all on form, with Egerton being allowed to let Eggsy’s chavvy enthusiasm to pop up at times. Firth is excellent again especially as he has to play both the badass Harry and the softer, damaged version who can’t remember who he is.

Mark Strong is good in everything he does and here he gets more to do as Merlin.

I also liked that they kept the Princess from the first movie as the love interest, and this relationship, while fleeting in terms of screen time  is handled well enough. Also good that they brought back Edward Holcroft’s obnoxious toff Charlie as Poppy’s cybernetically enhanced goon as it added to his vendetta against Eggsy. 

The newcomers are decent, although Tatum plays less of a role than trailers suggest. Pascal’s swaggering cowboy Whiskey is pretty badass and as their boss Champagne, Jeff Bridges is his usual charming self. The surprise was Halle Berry who is better here than I’ve seen her in a while. 

Whiskey in action

Julianne Moore is clearly enjoying her campy, flamboyant villain turn but it’s less fun for the audience and it can’t match Samuel L. Jackson in the first flick. She’s not bad, and quite fun, but her reasons are flimsy.

But Poppy’s plan is pretty smart and the twist of having a callous President was smart.

There are a few flaws, some characters from the first film are written out rather cheaply and there is a sense of it sticking to formula. But the formula does work and it delivers plenty of laughs and fun along the way. 

There’s also quite a nice extended cameo from Elton John playing himself, Poppy’s hostage and keying up “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” to soundtrack a shoot out.

Harry and Eggsy together again

In fact the music throughout is playful and clever.

I really enjoyed it but MWF and I both felt this is probably where we should leave Eggsy as a third outing might stretch it too far.

Verdict: It can’t match the first movie but this is still a fun, frantic romp. OTT in the best way and with its tongue firmly in cheek this kept me entertained throughout. 7.5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Film Review: 22 Jump Street

I was looking forward to watching this movie, because the first one was pretty funny and I’d missed it in the cinema. Luckily MWG was a fan too and she picked this up the other day, although I suspect a crush on one of the leads may have had something to do with it. Unlike many women who find Channing Tatum hot, MWG has a thing for Jonah Hill (one of her five) and so we checked this out the other day.

22 jump street pos

What I dug about the first movie was the fact that early on they referenced the fact that it was based on an old TV by having a character openly state that they’d run out of ideas so were just doing what they’d done in the ’80s. Here they make lots of sequel jokes, with the same character (played by Nick Offerman) stating that they were to go back undercover this time as college students and do “exactly the same thing”, only with more budget this time. This postmodern touch is done rather well and referenced throughout as the characters have better offices and the set pieces get bigger.

While the joke is a little laboured after a while the movie totally works and a lot of that is down to the two leads, Tatum and Hill, who have amazing chemistry on screen as Jenko and Schmidt respectively. Hill is a fantastic comedy performer and makes the awkward, clumsy Schmidt a likable character but once again Tatum is impressive, showing some fine comedy chops as the dumber, more gung-ho half of the partnership.

Amazing chemistry- Hill and Tatum undercover as Schmidt and Jenko

Amazing chemistry- Hill and Tatum undercover as Schmidt and Jenko

Posing as uni students to track down a new drug on the market, this time it’s Jenko who excels, finding a place at a frat and as a football player and quickly establishing a bromance with quarterback and possible suspect Zook (Wyatt Russell).

Jenko fitting in well at uni, Schmidt not quite as much

Jenko fitting in well at uni, Schmidt not quite as much

This leaves Schmidt feeling sidelined and he struggles to fit in, apart from with art student Maya (Amber Stevens) who he hooks up with. Schmidt and Jenko clash and their friendship frays. They clash over how to pursue the case and also

Can they remain friends and crack the case? Has Jenko found somewhere better than the force? And should they really just try and do everything the same as before?

I loved this movie, it’s lovably daft and tongue in cheek, and contains several big laughs. I chuckled and giggled my way through the whole thing and while it’s extremely dumb in places, it remains a solid sequel and a well crafted action comedy.

As I mentioned the leads are sensational and play off each other to great effect. Hill gets some of the best lines, and some of it feels ad-libbed, but Tatum is also shown to be a strong comic performer and his bromance with Zook is well handled, being quite fun. They also manage to make both characters believable, likable and engage the audience in their partnership, and films, even comedies always work best when the audience buys into the characters and Hill and Tatum ensure this is the case here.

The action sequences are well done and manage to keep the balance between action and comedy just right. Not too vicious to sour the laughs, but not too silly to spoil the adrenaline rush. That being said the fight between Schmidt and a female villain is comedy gold.

The supporting cast do a good job too, Nick Offerman’s cameo gets a few laughs and sets out the movie’s tongue in cheek tone. Amber Stevens, who impressed me in the show Greek is a little underused, but still works well with Hill, and Jillian Bell as Maya’s sarky, bitter roommate gets some fantastic insults in.

Peter Stormare seems to have a ball in the kind of role he seems able to do in his sleep, but the strongest supporting player is Ice Cube as Dickson, the heroes’ boss. Playing up the “angry black captain” stereotype once more Ice Cube is hilarious as the foul-mouthed captain, yelling down those in his command and barking out insults. Cube gets some of the film’s biggest laughs and reminds you of how good he can be on his day.

Ice Cube on scene-stealing form

Ice Cube on scene-stealing form

The end credits are quite fun too, continuing the postmodern, mocking tone by including clips and posters for further Jump Street installments, which sees Jenko and Schmidt take on assignments in culinary school, scuba school and several other daft assignments. It goes on a little bit too long, but is worth it just for 29 Jump Street, which sees Hill replaced by Seth Rogen (another of MWG’s five) and I would probably actually pay to watch the spoof movie.

Shut up and take my money

Shut up and take my money

Verdict; Daft and fun, it’s not quite as good as the first but Hill and Tatum continue to work well together and there are plenty of laughs along the way. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Review: GI Joe: Retaliation

Disclosure time, I never actually got around to watching GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra. I was initially curious about it because as a kid I used to play with the Joe figures and vaguely remember the cartoon, and I’m a fan of big dumb blockbusters and Stephen Sommers’ work, but I think i got wind of the Joe’s using some kind of crazy super suits which put me off, and also despite a few actors I like (Dennis Quaid and Christopher Eccleston) it couldn’t quite outweigh the fact that Marlon Wayans had a major role in the flick.

However, despite missing the first Joe movie I was keen to see the sequel, mainly due to the presence of Dwayne Johnson, but also because the trailers implied that it would be robo-suit free and more of an old school action flick.

gij pos

The film kicks off with unrest in Pakistan after their president has been killed, in the interests of safety the elite GI Joe unit is sent in to retrieve the country’s nuclear weapons. Headed up by Duke (Channing Tatum) and his right hand man Roadblock (Johnson) they rescue the nukes and are awaiting transport in the desert when their base is attacked, leaving most of the team dead, including Duke (I don’t count that as a spoiler, the trailers make it pretty clear Tatum wasn’t going to be in the movie for long).

Roadblock and the two other survivors Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), haul ass and discover that the President of the US (Jonathan Pryce) has denounced the Joes as traitors and installed their dreaded enemy Cobra as his security force. The President has actually been replaced by shapeshifting villain Zartan (Arnold Vosloo).

Ninja assassin Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) poses as masked Joe Snake Eyes and allows himself to be imprisoned so that he can bust out Cobra Commander (body Luke Bracey, voice Robert Baker) with the aid of another Cobra operative Firefly (Ray Stevenson). The real Snake Eyes (Ray Park) then takes new Joe recruit and Storm Shadow’s cousin, Jinx (Elodie Yung) to get Storm Shadown and uncover Cobra’s plans. Along the way Storm Shadow learns about his past and that his allies in Cobra may have lied and manipulated him.

The Joes then reunite and get ready to make a move on Cobra Commander and co. as their plan will come to fruition with a summit with all the nuclear powers. To aid them they enlist the original Joe, retired General Joseph Colton (Bruce Willis).

Can the Joes expose the plot, stop Cobra’s plan and avenge their friends? And what is the mysterious “Zeus” weapon that Cobra Commander has planned?

As the plot tells you this is a fairly generic action movie- good guys are screwed over and must fight back and stop villains from causing mass destruction and obtaining global domination.

But it really works as a piece of goofy blockbuster fluff. The action sequences are pretty well done and it has an enjoyably cartoonish quality- ninjas fight on cliff faces and deflect bullets with swords, guns never run out of ammo and many boots are put to asses.

The film’s major strength is Johnson as Roadblock. I’m a massive fan of Johnson and I think aside from Jason Statham he’s probably the best action star around. He definitely looks the part and he also has this easy charisma, he can deliver quips with the best of them and despite convincing as a badass, there’s a sense of humour to his performance and you can’t help warm to the guy.

Dwayne Johnson as Roadblock- Badass

Dwayne Johnson as Roadblock- Badass

He has good chemistry with Tatum and the two bicker to good effect and he does a good job of conveying the sense of duty and anger after the death of the Joes while also holding it together to rally what’s left of his troops.

The rest of the cast do their jobs well enough, Tatum is as charming as ever as Duke, Bruce Willis isn’t stretched in his extended cameo but does okay with what he’s got.

Ray Park and Byung-hun Lee do their jobs as dueling ninjas well enough and their sequences together are rather good fun.

Spy vs Spy the movie had taken some creative liberties with the source material

Spy vs Spy the movie had taken some creative liberties with the source material

The only real weakness is D.J. Cotrona as Flint. The role feels underwritten and a few half hearted hints at more with Lady Jaye aside he brings nothing to the table. Well, not exactly. Due to his whining and Cotrona’s oddly shifty performance I was expecting a double-cross which never arrived.

The villains are pretty fun. Pryce is clearly having a ball hamming it up as the President’s doppelganger, but this is blown out of the water by Ray Stevenson’s performance as Firefly. Stevenson really sinks his teeth into the part of the crazed bomber and it’s helped along by an OTT and ever-so creaky Deep South accent.

Stevenson as Firefly- this performance is not Kosher.

Stevenson as Firefly- this performance is not Kosher.

Stevenson is also a big guy and so he provides the perfect enemy for Roadblock to go toe-to-toe with.

I don’t want to big it up too much, however, because the movie is at times unbelievably stupid and some of the dialogue is so cheesy those suffering from lactose intolerance should probably steer clear. But it still kinda works as a fun blockbuster and it ticks the boxes of an entertaining romp.

It’s also quite nice to have a few different elements mixed in- you get ninjas, some brief espionage bits, sci-fi gizmos and then tons of old fashioned beat and shoot em’ ups.

It’s also got a kind of old school, Bond-ish aspect to the threat of massive nuclear war. Yes, I did just kind of express nostalgia for movies based around atomic bombs. (Although there are a few North Korea jokes which given the current climate feel a little misjudged). Oh, and when did London become the go to city to get destroyed in movies? It gets leveled a lot, I miss when it used to be Paris that always got wasted.

So, it’s not perfect and it’s stupid, but it’s a good movie to pass the time with and it’s a damn sight better than some other action movies I’ve seen recently (A Good Day to Die Hard and Battleship). Johnson carries the whole thing rather well and continues to impress me as an action hero, and it’s rejuvenated the franchise.

And at least it has this going for it- it’s the best movie based on toys since Clue.

Verdict: It won’t change your life, but it’s all rather good fun and most of the cast do well with what they’re given. The action sequences are handled well and the plot moves along well enough. Johnson is as good as ever and it’s a decent knuckle-headed blockbuster. 7/10

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


The 2%

I love facts. Pointless trivia, daft statistics and historical anecdotes, I can’t get enough. It’s why Qi is one of my favourite shows, and so I eagerly downloaded the book 1,227 Qi Facts to Blow Your Socks Off by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson, it’s a fascinating read and already armed me with a ton of random things to tell people (see a selection below). It’s a nice book to dip in and out of when you can’t focus on a novel or something.

Anyway, the other day I read the following fact:

Only 2% of women describe themselves as beautiful.

When I first read this fact my first thought was- You’ve got to be pretty damn self assured to describe yourself as beautiful. I mean, bordering on arrogance.

But then I thought about it some more.

Just 2% is actually rather sad.

I mean, there’s no more info provided, and it could be that a lot of women described themselves as “attractive” or “alright looking”, but still, the fact that only 2 view themselves as beautiful is really bad.

I know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and there may be a kind of humility involved in people’s answers or a fear of appearing conceited or big headed. But the fact that so few women consider themselves beautiful is pretty bad.

Here’s the thing- Think of 100 women you know personally. I guarantee that you’d probably consider far more than 2 of them beautiful. What we’re dealing with is that most of those women are feeling bad about themselves. And that’s just really sad. 

I don’t know how men would answer the question of whether they’d describe themselves as handsome, but I kind of suspect it would be higher. While there is pressure on dudes to look a certain way, it’s nothing compared to the kind of crap women have to put up with. Tina Fey summed it up rather well:

fey

Now, I’m not going to say something patronizing like that all women are beautiful, because well, I’d be lying. That might sound harsh but there are women I don’t find attractive, and beauty is subjective.

What we need to do is stop all the negativity which promotes all these feelings of inadequacy. The really important thing to do is to teach people that it doesn’t matter what others say and the important thing is to be comfortable within yourself. If you think there’s something you want to improve, then work at it, like I am with my weight, but don’t get down on yourself and consider yourself ugly.

I realize that it’s easy to write this, and changing our outlook is tougher. I totally get it. I’m a dude who regularly looks at myself in the mirror with a mix of revulsion and shame, and try as I might I can’t help drawing unflattering comparisons with the Channing Tatums and Ryan Reynoldses of the world.

reynolds

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop trying to think better of ourselves. I’ve lost some weight and feel better about myself than I used to (I’d now be more likely to describe myself as “unusual looking” than “fugly”), and I try not to dwell on my own flaws.

What we can definitely do is try our best not to contribute to anyone else’s insecurities. The old fashioned “if you can’t think of anything nice to say don’t say anything at all” idea is a good rule to follow, and remember that just because we might not like something doesn’t mean that it’s bad, it’s just not our taste.

On the internet you can find a lot of pictures of women, and many allow you to make comments. I’ve commented or “liked” stuff in the past, usually on pictures I find particularly foxy, but I’m always surprised by how many people post nasty little comments. I mean, just scroll past. It just feels needlessly nasty and I can’t see what they hope to achieve by it.

If I see a girl who’s not my cup of tea I just go on, making a nasty comment would be going out of my way to insult somebody who’s done nothing other than pose or submit a picture of themselves. Even when I don’t like them I kinda respect their confidence and guts for putting themselves out there like that.

I mean, why make a stranger feel bad about themselves? It usually says more about the person making the comment than the picture, and it doesn’t make you look like a winner, no matter how witty you think your put down is. It makes you look like a douchebag.

But perhaps it should go further,  and people should complain about magazines running those nasty “look at the state of her” articles. And any other way of insulting and humiliating people over their flaws or looks.

Of course, this is going to take time. You only need to read comments on YouTube videos to become aware of the fact there are a lot of unpleasant little toerags out there. Hopefully they’ll grow out of it.

Basically this is another case where everybody needs to remember one of life’s most important rules:

dbad

Sorry if this seemed to ramble a little, kinda lost focus but I hope I got my feelings and thoughts across clearly enough.

10 Facts from the book

  1. Sir Walter Raleigh’s devoted widow Elizabeth kept his decapitated head in a velvet bag for 29 years- Seriously creepy.
  2. 8 times as many people belong to the National Trust as to the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties combined
  3. In 2005, the 54 billionaires in Britain paid only £14.7 million in income tax between them. Of this, £9 million came from James Dyson- Well done, Dyson, the other 53 of you? Shame on you.
  4. When Peter Benchley, author of Jaws couldn’t think of a title his father suggested What’s That Noshin’ on Ma Leg?– Am I the only one who thinks that’s a great title.
  5. A “riot” in England and Wales must legally involve a minimum of 12 people. Under US federal law it’s only 3 and in Nevada only 2- What kind of lame riot only has 2 people? In fact 12 is pretty pathetic too.
  6. At the outbreak of WW2 zookeepers killed all the poisonous insects and snakes in London Zoo, in case it was bombed and they escaped- Makes sense, but must have been a little grim too.
  7. To celebrate the end of the first Gulf War Kuwati citizens fired guns into the air. 20 people died as a result of the bullets coming down- D’oh!
  8. Each year, drug baron Pablo Escobar had to write off 10% of his cash holdings because of rats nibbling away at his huge stash of bank notes- Possibly the weirdest/most badass problem to have ever.
  9. Wild Bill Hickok’s brother Lorenzo was nicknamed “Tame Bill Hickok”- Which is kinda cute, but probably very annoying for Lorenzo.
  10. The Dyslexia Research Centre is in Reading- Nice work, folks.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


DVD Roundup: The Vow and The Cabin in the Woods

Warning. May contain spoilers.

This rather mismatched double bill is courtesy of LoveFilm choosing to send these two flicks to me at the same time. I’d chosen both as I missed them in the cinema last year, but watching them back-to-back was a bit weird.

First up, is The Vow. This is a romantic drama which from the trailers looked like it was going to be a total slushfest, but I’m a bit of a soft git so I wanted to see it.

vowposter

The movie stars Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams as Leo and Paige Collins, a happily married couple who spend their time larking about and enjoying beautiful together. That is until they are involved in a car accident, and when Paige wakes up she has no memory of the last few years of her life, including meeting and falling for Leo.

With Paige being a very different person, they attempt to help her readjust to life and hope to jog her memory, but are hampered by her intrusive family who had previously been estranged from her and the fact that the person she was all those years ago is very different from who she would become. However, still devoted to his wife Leo attempts to support her, despite the events shaking him deeply and struggling to cope with the changes.P

Paige’s father, Bill (Sam Neill) is disapproving of her new lifestyle and attempts to use the memory loss to get her back on the path she initially intended to follow.

The couple part until Paige is reminded of the event which drove a wedge between her and her family, and slowly starts to make similar decisions to what she did at the first time. The film ends optimistically with the pair bumping into each other and Paige feeling the spark and the two going off to get a coffee.

As the premise suggests, it’s a very slushy film but it works at what it’s for, and I can’t lie and there weren’t times when I got a little bit choked up, or found myself shouting at the TV. It’s all rather sweet and Channing Tatum, who’s been on the man crush list for a while  now plays pretty much the perfect man- sensitive, devoted, loving and, of course, incredibly good looking.

Channing Tatum- still hot even after getting caught in the rain. The bastard.

Channing Tatum- still hot even after getting caught in the rain. The bastard.

He delivers a charismatic, endearing performance as Leo, the man who’s life has fallen apart and is increasingly hurt by his wife’s changes in behaviour. His attempts to jog her memory are very sweet and it’s a character that oozes decency throughout.

Because of this, at times I got a little frustrated with McAdams’ Paige, although the actress does a good job at capturing the confusion and turmoil her character experiences, especially the conflicting feelings of her past self and her present emotions as she begins to develop feelings for Leo. It also helps that the leads have great chemistry together, both in the flashbacks and their new, fledgling relationship.

Rachel McAdams- charming and sweet

Rachel McAdams- charming and sweet

The supporting cast do their jobs well enough, particularly Sam Neill as the hissable villain of the peace, Paige’s controlling father who tries to capitalize on her condition to cover his past mistakes and to regain control of her life.

The ending of the film is well handled, with Paige still without her memories but there being an optimistic feel and a sense that they will get back together. What makes it even better is the revelation that the film is based on a true story, although the real life couple are no match for McAdams and Tatum in the looks department, but, hey, that’s Hollywood.

Verdict: Somewhat predictable and very slushy, but rather sweet and benefits from two likable leads who work well together. 7/10.

The second of the double bill is The Cabin in the Woods, produced and co-written by Joss Whedon, the brains behind Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Doctor Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog and last year’s Avengers Assemble. The film was shot a few years back, but sat around for a bit until it got a bit of heat thanks to Whedon hitting it big with the Avengers and one of the cast, Chris Hemsworth becoming a big star.

citwpos

The movie follows a group of five college friends who go up to a deserted cabin in the woods, where very quickly things go awry. However, while there are frequent nods to the Evil Dead style of horror, it’s established early on that more is going on and the cabin, the students and the creepy stuff that befalls them is all being orchestrated by technicians in a high-tech, underground facility.

Things going awry for Dana (Kristen Connolly)

Things going awry for Dana (Kristen Connolly)

Not only have they orchestrated the attack by a family of zombie serial killers, but they’re actually drugging and messing with the students to get them to behave in certain ways. The film’s protagonist, Dana (Kristen Connolly), is the traditional innocent girl and soon her companions are acting like slasher film stereotypes- best friend Jules (Anna Hutchison) becomes increasingly slutty, while her boyfriend, Curt (Hemsworth) shown early on to be smart and sensitive becomes increasingly macho and boorish. Curt’s friend, Holden (Jesse Williams) who they’re attempting to set Dana up with becomes a bit more nerdy and stoner Marty (Fran Kranz) is the closest to working out what’s going on, but bumbles around in his weed-haze.

The movie has a lot of fun playing with horror conventions, which is also part of the plot, and the technicians clearly represent the desensitized horror audience- largely male, they watch the horror with detached enjoyment although some seem conflicted and a few even root for Dana.

With the group being picked off they finally stumble onto the facility and work out what’s going on. At which point it all kicks off as the various creatures and nasties in the facility are unleashed and make short work of the technicians in an enjoyably blood spattered sequence filled with anarchy. Can Dana and her fellow survivors work out what’s going on and why they’re there? And when they work it out will they continue to fight for their survival or agree to play their roles.

I have to say I was a bit disappointed with this flick, due to Whedon’s premise I’d gone in with high expectations, which the film never lived up to. That’s not to say it’s not enjoyable, as some of it is rather fun and the script has Whedon’s ear for comedy and character. The problem is that while it’s playing with genre conventions some of the characters are a bit 2D and I got annoyed when I thought they’d whacked the student character I liked the most. Luckily they come back later on.

The technicians have several great moments, bickering and bantering away, betting on which critter the students will unwittingly unleash, although I worked out what was going on a bit before the reveal, which was disappointing. Also, I think the film shows it’s hand a bit too early, I’d have liked for them to have played it straight and then had the big reveal later on, whereas early on they let us in that all is not as it seems and that it might not be an accident that the students wind up in trouble.

There are nice touches- the array of creatures in the facility are interesting and handled well, with a few creepy ideas in the mix, and some nice spins on mythical beasties. And the chaotic scenes as they tear through the staff once released is a gory delight, and for a Buffy fan it calls to mind the government organisation which was collecting various monsters.

Also, the explanation of the character’s behaviour is rather neat, tying in with stock horror archetypes.

The cast do well with their roles, even if a few are under written, and there are a few Whedon regulars who crop up. Connolly does well as the plucky good girl heroine and Kranz’ is the standout as the quippy stoner Marty.

Reefer madness- standout Fran Kranz as Marty.

Reefer madness- standout Fran Kranz as Marty.

The film just about works, mainly when the conspiracy is revealed or in the comedic, dialogue led sequences, and there’s enough gore and references to keep horror fans happy.

Verdict: A mixed bag, there are nice touches and the final act is very well done, but on the whole it rather disappoints and there are a few missed opportunites. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Review: Side Effects

 

Warning! I’ve done my best to avoid spoilers, but there are a few plot points revealed although most of these are shown in the trailer, and I’ll do my best not to give away how the whole movie ends.

I saw the trailer for this the other week and it went right onto my “wanna see that” list, and despite there being a fair few movies out at the moment that I want to see this won out yesterday.

sepos

Thankfully, it lived up to it’s trailer.

The film follows Dr Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), a psychiatrist, who begins treating a young lady, Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) who was brought in following a car crash which seems deliberate. Diagnosing her with depression Banks begins to see her regularly.

Emily’s personal life has undergone massive upheaval as her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum) has just been released from prison having served four years for insider trading. He is attempting to rebuild his life and career and Emily begins to struggle.

Banks prescribes some medications which Emily does not feel work for her, but the two of them get on well, and consults her old therapist Dr Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who suggests a new medicine Ablixa, a drug which Emily also suggests having seen it advertised.

The drug appears to work, with Emily becoming more confident and closer with Martin, however, one of the side effects of the drug is sleep walking and this freaks Martin out, but Emily argues that the drug is helping her and she wants to stay on it. Banks agrees to let this happen, after Emily threatens to find a new doctor.

One day Martin returns home from work to find Emily experiencing a sleep walking incident and during this she stabs and kills him, before returning to bed. When she awakes she calls the police and Banks is called to the station, where he defends her.

Working with the defence, Banks succeeds in Emily avoiding prison and being temporarily institutionalized. However, his actions in prescribing the meds even after Martin’s complaint brings him under scrutiny and has negative effects on his career, especially when his conduct is questioned and an old allegation of doctor-patient abuse resurfaces.

Banks becomes obsessed with the case and Emily, and as his world begins to crumble around him he begins to suspect that there is more going on than meets the eye and that he might have been played.

Banks' (Jude Law) world begins to crumble

Banks’ (Jude Law) world begins to crumble

 

What really happened? Who is responsible for his problems? And does Siebert know more about Emily than she’s letting on?

This is a really well handled thriller, with Steven Soderbergh again showing his skills as a director. It’s a wonderfully paced little thriller and he gets the tone just right, starting with this kind of detached feeling at the start which speaks of both Banks’ slightly aloof manner to his job and also Emily’s mental state, before the movie starts to become increasingly immediate and he starts to build the tension magnificently.

It all gets wound tighter and tighter, as Banks’ world starts to unravel and he becomes obsessed with pursuing his goal in finding the truth, regardless of the effect it has on the rest of his life. Jude Law is superb in the lead role as the suave, professional doctor who becomes increasingly erratic as the film goes on, and then performs a masterstroke in having the character change directions again. Just as he is all fraying edges Law gives us this little glimpse of Banks’ intelligence and grit, and suddenly he starts to regroup and fight back.

Law manages to capture all these different stages perfectly, and also should be applauded for keeping audiences on side, because some of the stuff he does along the way is on extremely shaky moral ground. It feels natural though, for a character who is clearly intelligent and blessed with insight into the workings of the human mind which enables him to be manipulative and sneaky in a compelling manner. Yet at no point does he lose the audience’s sympathy.

The other stand out is Rooney Mara, who had already impressed me in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (review here), the character here is worlds away from Lisbeth Salander, but at the same time, there’s that same kind of fragility to the character. Mara’s beauty and slight frame means that Emily has what one character refers to as a “bird with a broken wing” kind of vibe that makes you want to protect her (and yes, I’m aware of how terribly old fashioned and sexist that sounds, but that’s the way it is, I’m a sucker for a damsel in distress, alright?) and she’s sweet and endearing.

Rooney Mara as Emily- Stand out

Rooney Mara as Emily- Stand out

She does a very good job in representing Emily’s depression, and the way she sleep walks through things and the general aura of hopelessness is heartbreaking. As the plot progresses, she does a very good job in underplaying the role and it works to keep the audience guessing as to what is really going on. She also let’s subtle signs in that maybe Emily is not the little girl lost she makes out she is and there’s a hint of steeliness behind her eyes.

Special mention should also go to Catherine Zeta-Jones. I’ve always had a bit of a problem with CZJ in the fact that she can often be a rather cold on-screen presence and while I’ve enjoyed some of her flicks (Intolerable Cruelty, The Mask of Zorro) she is hard to warm to, however, here that kind of brittle, icy quality works for the character of Siebert, who’s suspicious and unreadable from the off. Although CZJ does do a good job of showing the cracks starting to show in the facade.

Zeta-Jones as Siebert- Brittle and icy quality works for the part

Zeta-Jones as Siebert- Brittle and icy quality works for the part

The movie is carried by it’s tightly paced plot and the story line is gripping with plenty of twists and turns, and underhand behind the scenes dealings. What really helps is that it keeps the nature of the villains and their motives murky until the end, and lays quite a few false trails.

It’s interesting enough for the insight into how big pharmaceuticals work in the US and the way they court doctors, we have drugs reps here in the UK, but with medical care being privatized over there it seems as though the drug companies really go after getting the doctors onside and also the additional pressures put on doctors there.

It’s also rather interesting to see the differences in attitudes towards conditions like depression, with the characters being rather open about medicines they’ve taken in the past when they try to support Emily and the way characters like Banks and his wife also use drugs. It feels weird for a Brit watching this, and you wonder if many of the prescriptions in America are actually necessary or whether doctors just throw pills at the problem because they make money off their patients. I’m not going to go into government healthcare and all that here, but it gives you food for thought and raises some interesting issues.

The attitude is different, although I’m not sure the Yank way is all bad, as Banks states at one point, in the UK if you’re in therapy you’re seen as sick, but in the US it’s seen as that you’re getting better.

On the whole, this is a well made, gripping and engaging thriller (if a tad predictable in places) but it has a good cast, and Soderbergh shoots it magnificently. It’s also nice to see a major Hollywood movie maker  who’s willing to make his protagonist deeply amoral and confuse the ethics of the film, leaving the audiences with an ending which is both satisfying and fitting, but still leaves a bit of a nasty taste in the mouth.

Verdict: An accomplished and well crafted thriller, with strong central performances from Law and Mara, and a twisty, gripping plot. It’s morality will raise questions and make audiences think, which is always a good thing. Dark and interesting. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.